Still Number One!


February is National Heart Month, of grave importance to Baby Boomers and older adults.  Fortunately, this disease is one that responds well to lifestyle choices—both food and exercise.

“Protect your heart this month and into the future.”

Working with seniors, I continue to hear horror stories about heart disease.  Men are rushed to the hospital after experiencing a “crushing” feeling in their chest or pain down eir left arm.  Women aren’t so lucky: their symptoms are more likely to be non-chest related: neck, jaw, or shoulder discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual fatigue, or pain in one or both arms.  Often women don’t seek help in time.

If you experience any symptoms like these, call 911 or get yourself a ride to the hospital asap.  I attended a CPR class last month, and was surprised at how few people are saved through CPR efforts.  According to the American Heart Association, if you  suffer a major heart attack outside a hospital, you have less than a 50% chance of receiving CPR from a bystander, and only a 45% chance of surviving that CPR intervention.

We all know about heart disease (or cardiovascular disease). Yet despite years of public health efforts to curb this epidemic, the statistics remain alarming:

  • Heart disease is still the number-one killer worldwide
  • It claims more than 830,000 US lives each year—approximately one in three deaths
  • In the United States, someone dies from a heart attack every 38 seconds
  • Heart disease accounts for 1 in 7 deaths in our country

“Heart disease” is a category of disorders involving the heart and blood vessels (coronary heart disease, or CHD, and stroke). CHD develops over time, with a narrowing or blockage of heart blood vessels caused by a build-up of plaque (fat and cholesterol). Think of muck gradually accumulating inside a hose, and eventually bursting and blocking the flow of water. This is what happens to blood vessels leading to the heart—eventually they don’t allow enough oxygen-rich blood to nourish this vital organ. The result can be a heart attack.

Several risk factors exist for heart disease. Those you cannot modify include:

  • age (the majority of people who die from heart disease are 65 and older)
  • gender (men still have a greater risk of heart disease than women)
  • genetics (a family history of heart disease increases the risk, as does being African American, Mexican American, American Indian, or Native Hawaiian)

Fortunately, some risk factors can be controlled. The American Heart Association has identified lifestyle goals that contribute to heart health—“Life’s Simple 7.”

1) Eat better. Increase your consumption foods containing soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol: fruits (bananas, apples, oranges, peaches, and berries), vegetables (Brussel sprouts and turnips), whole grains (oatmeal), and dried beans. Eat more healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil) and fish, while cutting down on sodium (salt), overall fat intake (especially saturated and trans fats), high-fat meats (including processed/cured meats), high-fat dairy products, and sugar. These food modifications will help control the following four risk factors.

2) Control cholesterol. Cholesterol is a natural substance our bodies manufacture that’s vital for its proper functioning. But high levels of one type of cholesterol, LDL, can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack. Diet and exercise affect LDL levels.

3) Manage blood pressure. High blood pressure causes excess strain and damage to coronary arteries, which can lead to a build up of plaque and, eventually, a heart attack.

4) Reduce blood sugar. Heart disease death rates among adults with diabetes are two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.

5) Maintain a healthy weight. A decrease in weight of only 5-10 percent will decrease your overall risk for heart disease.

6) Get active. Exercising thirty minutes most days of the week will boost heart-health.

7) Stop smoking—Chemicals in smoke can damage heart tissue and blood vessels. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease approximates that of non-smokers within five years.

Also, ask your healthcare provider about plant stanols and sterols, naturally-occurring substances in a plant-based diet that help lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL).

For additional heart-healthy lifestyle ideas, give me a call!

We can discuss some practical tips and discover if any of my programs or classes are a good fit for your friends or family.
If you’d like to schedule that call with me, just CLICK THIS LINK, and let me know in the message that you would like a 1-on-1 call with me right away and I will be in touch to schedule that—oh, and leave me your phone number in there too since email is not as reliable as it used to be! Thanks.

Lisa Teresi Harris is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer, and author of the book Building Your Enduring Fitness.  A certified Geri-Fit Instructor, she helps Boomers and seniors to regain and keep muscle strength, mobility, and energy.
Contact Lisa to inquire about a customized, in-home fitness program for you or a loved one.

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